She dangled lifelessly, in the light of day, her skirts hanging loose about her feet. Her feet were adorned with silver anklets that had tiny, silver mangoes, in an intricate design, and made a faint sound while she swayed gently from the sturdiest branch of the tree.
Giving up on dignity that eluded her in life and in death apparently, she became a spectacle for all the people of the nearby villages, who flocked to the now infamous mango tree that now bore fruit that everybody would reject.
Only one man knew why she was there. For he had dragged her by the infallible noose that he had twisted effectively to create a sturdy knot. He was dressed in white, the colour of purity and serenity. He had been dressed in white the previous night, as well.
He stood there, looking up at her, the radiance of his dramatic white costume, dazzling and blinding everyone. There were whispers, but nobody said anything out loud and the matter was closed by the end of the day.
The tree was left alone. All summer, no child threw a stone at its branches even when the tree was laden heavy with fruit, groaning with all the weight. Nobody plucked the fruit that turned from a tender green to a mature green and finally a golden-yellow. The ripe fruit fell to the earth and rotted in the sunlight and formed a squishy layer of pulp after it had rained. People held their noses, stopped breathing, as they passed by, for the stench of overripe rotting fruit was overwhelming.
The next year the tree forgot to bloom. The entire orchard was in bloom, the new leaves of every leaf unfurled to change colour with every passing day. Life forgot to visit the mango tree. In a few years, it withered and nothing was left of it except a dying trunk and branches that withered and dropped off, like lifeless arms that amputated themselves.
The dust of time covered the man in white, who lived, unrepentant, all his life.
A sepia tinted photograph remained in his possession and somebody stashed it away in one of the trunks that had all the old photographs of people they didn’t even know.
Peace and happiness eluded him and the next couple of generations.
The story of the woman with pretty feet and beautiful anklets, however, was forgotten.
Except that peaceful sleep often eluded me and in dreams I could see, vividly, feet dangling with silver anklets right in front of me, so close that I could reach out and touch them.
Mangoes, fruit that every person in this part of the country was familiar with, became elusive to the family. Nobody could make avakaya-mango pickle. If they did, the entire jar would spoil and a layer of grey-black fungus would cover the oil. A nauseating stench, a sure sign of food going bad, would permeate the air.
Nobody could relish ripe mangoes either. One bite into a sweet,plump, juicy, delicious mango and a dozen white maggots would wriggle, embedded in the putrid flesh, in irritation, at being disturbed. Mango juice would choke and rise tempered with bitter bile, and raw mangoes with salt and chilly powder would set teeth on edge and cause such a horrible sensation that spitting them out was inevitable.
And then, one evening, while I was walking in the park, I felt a ball hit me on the head. The sharp shooting pain made me wheel around to tick off the children who were playing ball, rather carelessly, but there were no children around. To my great wonder I saw, at my feet, a little owl, looking perfectly bewildered at its sudden drop to earth. I looked up at the trees and saw the dark nest that I assumed was its home.
This incident was enough for my friend to take matters into her hand. She felt it was a sign. And she had to know what it signified.
Horoscopes are a map to our lives, here where I belong. My horoscope, I refer to as a ‘horror-scope’ in jest, for I have nothing but humour to counter the strange twists of fate that ensure I am riddled with pain, doubt and infamy. Mind you, I am as conscientious as they come. However, everything good eludes me.
So, my well-meaning friend took my ‘horror-scope’ to a seer.
He declared that the horoscope was indeed a very difficult one, indeed. The remedy, he said was difficult to even fathom, without divining the truth. He sat in a trance and held up his arm with his palm over the chart, in an attempt to concentrate, and winced in pain.
‘I see a woman. She does not allow me to see any further. She is holding on to my arm, freezing it in this position and I cannot move it. I am sorry, but you will have to bring her here. Maybe, only then will she allow me to find out the truth.’
My friend, who knew I was very sceptical, asked him if he could do something without me being there. He held on to his arm and said testily, ‘I am sorry. She has to be here.’ He got up to leave.
‘And, oh, please ask her to bring all the old photographs she has. The ones that her grandparents have stored in the attic.’
Surprisingly, I raised none of the objections that I normally would have.
I went up to the attic and rummaged through the trunk that had all these photographs and the forgotten faces stared up at me willing me to recognize them.
There was this haunting photograph of a young woman, that compelled me to look at her over, and over again. There were folds across it as if somebody had tried to crumple it.
I packed the photographs into a huge envelope and went to bed early, that Saturday night.
My dreams were more lucid and I could also hear the gentle sound of the anklets as the feet swayed. I could count the number of tiny silver mangoes that adorned her anklets.
I woke up drenched in sweat.
Sleep eluded me again.
Sunday morning saw us on our way to the tiny village on the hills, a hundred kilometres away from home.
It was strange, the GPS of the car was on, and yet we lost our way at least three times. We veered off the highway and traversed hills and valleys that were untouched by civilization. Our cell phones refused to cooperate and the signal played hide and seek.
We were supposed to meet the holy man by nine in the morning and it was noon by the time we found our way, finally.
Hungry and tired, we waited for an eternity for him to return.
The sun was on its way, darkness following it, eager to dip into the pool of orange, ready to sink behind the hills on the horizon, when he returned, walking purposefully towards his little hut.
He looked at me and grimaced.
We sat on the mat. He spread the old photographs in front of him and his gaze was arrested by this photograph. He pushed the rest away and my friend hurriedly gathered them up and shoved them into the envelope.
Silence reigned supreme.
His brows knotted and he gazed at the photograph for a very long time.
He then closed his eyes and his palms hovered over the photograph.
This time he could concentrate.
He divined the entire scenario and said that all the inexplicable sorrow that nested in our homes and family, over the generations, was a result of the curse of this innocent young woman.
His voice created a ripple in the pool of silence on which we all floated unaware of the world outside.
‘She wants peace after all these years, and that is why you are here.’
After a few hours with him, we returned in silence.
In the darkness that was inexplicably black, a few fireflies lit up the bushes by the roadside. The stars began to blaze with a cold fire and the car hummed its way on the road, maintaining a steady rhythm.
My friend bought a few mangoes on the way, for fruit sold in these forgotten parts of the world were divine to taste.
Absentmindedly she offered me one and since I had had nothing to eat the whole day, I bit into it,half expecting to spit it out, proving right, yet again, our legendary allergy and aversion to mangoes.
Surprisingly, the mango was sweet and fresh. I relished it, the juice dripping over my chin and onto my saree.
I didn’t care.
After all, this was the first mango that I could relish after all these years.
That night, I didn’t dream of swaying feet adorned with anklets.
In fact I didn’t dream at all.
Elusive sleep had finally decided to have mercy on me.